Putting the “Real” Back In Reality TV: “My Unorthodox Life” and Rediscovering Yourself
Although it aims to be “real,” reality TV often falls short of the mark, forfeiting authenticity for the sake of drama. Real life can be dramatic, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not Housewives dramatic, with people flipping tables every 10 minutes and Andy Cohen moderating your social gatherings (which is probably amazing when you’re with your in-laws). It’s rare to come across a reality TV show that captures someone’s true story and makes it relatable. Or somewhat relatable. That is, until Julia Haart and her show, “My Unorthodox Life.”
Recently, T.H. and Jessica have been talking a lot about reinventing and rediscovering your identity, especially after divorce. Many of these conversations stem from this new show “My Unorthodox Life.” The reality show focuses on the life of Julia Haart, a former member of a fundamentalist ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Haart was married at 19 and had four kids. She made no decisions. She was told what to do, even when it came to her sex life. Everything, down to the most intimate things about her, were controlled by the rules of the community. She had no opportunity to make her own choices. The show is about how Haart was able to save and find herself after leaving this community. Now, she’s the CEO of a global modeling and fashion empire, and she’s made her own way. It just goes to show that you can be anything you want to be if you really want to. And for her, it was sink or swim.
T.H. first found the show and started watching, and then had to have Jessica watch it – so much so that her persistence was borderline harassment. But once Jessica watched the first episode, she was hooked! For Jessica to actually feel this strongly about a reality TV show says a lot because although she worked in TV for over 20 years, she really does not watch that much TV at all anymore.
At first, Jesscia assumed that it was going to be a documentary about a woman and her family, living within this super ultra-Orthodox sect of Judaism, which, in her opinion, is an extreme part that does not represent the average Jewish families in America. But that is so not what this show is about!
Despite having all the juicy drama and flashy appeal of the Kardashians (Haart literally has the rotating closet rack like Cher in “Clueless”, and a conveyor belt for her shoes!), “My Unorthodox Life” is refreshing and relatable because under all the glitz anad glamour, it’s really a story about perseverance and self-discovery. It’s a story about the human experience. It’s about doing what you have to do, for you. And that journey of re-finding yourself, redefining yourself and going through the process of self-discovery is something every single person that gets divorced has to go through. It’s certaibnly not a linear path for everyone, and the path itself is vastly different from one person to another. But leaving a marriage, getting divorced and knowing that you are now making all of your steps on your own is a major moment for anyone.
The Attitude of Determination
Haart has an attitude that is undeniable and unbelievable. She is who she is and she excels because she remains faithful to herself. Haart has a powerful attitude of determination. She is confident in her ability. Haart demonstrates that it doesn’t matter where you come from in life, because if you believe in your heart of hearts (no pun intended) that you have the capacity to do more, then you can do more.
Haart gives a voice to the many women who feel that they’re stuck in toxic marriages/relationships, and they have no opportunity to get out and do anything else with themselves or for themselves. Haart was treated like a piece of property. She came from a very patriarchal society where she basically had no rights of her own as a woman, all while in the United States.
We hear stories all the time of people coming from nowhere, the rags to riches stories. The truth is it doesn’t even matter if it’s rags to riches. It could be women that have been educated and are very well-off but are in relationships where they’re being held back because their partners are dictating what they can and can’t do.
Haart made a difficult decision, and chose to break away from the constrictive community she was in. She knew that she was meant for something more. She saw a life for herself beyond the clouded confine of her community.
In Doing Well for Herself, She Does Well for Others
It sounds counterintuitive, but putting yourself first, can actually help those around you. In doing well for yourself, you do well for others.
Haart’s entire philosophy is about whoever you are, be your authentic self, don’t be afraid and don’t be held back. Jessica and T.H. know that so many women going through divorce, especially those that have kids, worry about putting themselves first. How can you not worry about your kids and how they are going to manage? How are you going to navigate these situations when you’re dealing with children who you still have to teach and you still have to set examples for? But it’s almost like when you’re on an airplane, and they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on first and then help those around you. Because if you aren’t using your strength and your courage for yourself to be where you feel like you need and want to be, you’re not going to be able to set that example that you really want to set for your children.
It’s just so important to be able to recognize where you are. When you wake up in the morning, does your heart start pounding and do you feel anxious about where you are and what you have to do that day based on who your partner is? Or do you wake up in the morning thinking it’s going to be a great day, I love my life? We all have down moments, but the majority of the time, you really should be waking up thinking, I’m so happy with where I am today. You should wake up happy about where you are and eager to look forward to where you’re going. That’s the goal in life. T.H. and Jessica say the way you treat yourself influences the way your kids perceive the world around them. It’s a trickle-down effect of emotion. Your kids see the way you feel, and they experience it second-hand. By helping yourself first, you’re helping them.
Exploring the World Outside the One You Were Raised In
Haart talks about how she’s encouraging her children to explore a world outside of that ultra-Orthodox fundamentalist type of thought process. Haart believes you can still be religious and acknowledge the religion. But, being fundamentalist in her mind is not the same as being Jewish and respecting the religion for itself.
Haart aims to be a guiding force in her children’s lives. After all, it was her children who inspired her to get out of the oppressive society she was in. She didn’t want them to endure the same life. So she chose to break the mold for them. Jessica feels that this is so relevant for people coming out of divorce because your children have had a certain experience the whole time that you’ve been raising them. You’ve raised your kids in a particular way, and they’ve seen the relationship that you and your spouse have been modeling. That’s what they’re taking with them as the example of what a relationship should be, or to some extent what a successful relationship is.
T.H. believes that good communication and just being you, bringing your best self, doing better once you know better…these are things that help keep a relationship healthy. But when you’re in a relationship that’s leading towards divorce, you’re not experiencing those things. So many people talk about staying for the kids, but getting out is actually such a better decision. You’re showing your children that it’s okay to be independent, and it’s okay to stand up for yourself and be who you are. You don’t want your kids to wonder if the world they were raised in was a lie. Was that authentic and was that real? Has everything been a lie? Has everything been fake? To watch on camera, Haart and her children navigating a “real” lifestyle that is the polar opposite of what they were raised in, is so radically inspiring.
The show takes you through the whole learning process of taking on a new experience. It takes you through the journey of what it’s like to find yourself. It’s a journey that, at its core, is relatable to so many different family and marriage situations. What makes Haart’s experience so relatable is that it’s rooted in fear. It’s about doing something even though you’re afraid. It’s about putting yourself out there and listening to your gut (or heart). Everybody has the fear of the unknown. For many years, T.H., subconsciously, trained herself to not listen to her gut, not hear the things that were being said to her, not hear the tone of the voice that was being used towards her. She had trained herself to protect herself in the name of the kids, because it was easier. But in doing so, she was minimizing her voice. She looks back and realizes that her actions were really to protect her because she was afraid. The “what if’s” haunted her. What would people think? What’s going to happen to the kids? lf you want to get out of the situation you’re in, there’s nothing holding you back but fear itself. You can escape. It’s not going to be easy, but there’s always a way out and a way to start anew. Don’t let fear hold you back for too long because you’re going to miss out.
Haart talks about how she lived in a society where women were uneducated and were not allowed to work. She started selling life insurance on the side, without her husband’s knowledge, so she could have a bank account and start making a plan to be able to move on with her life. Jessica and T.H. feel that you have to redefine and rediscover yourself after divorce. Really, after any major life event. As women, it was important for the both of them to set an example for their kids about what a healthy relationship should be. They wanted to model for their daughters what a healthy relationship with yourself is and how a healthy relationship should be with a partner. Coming out of a relationship where her ex had cheated, Jessica didn’t want her daughter to think that it’s okay to be in a relationship where someone is cheating on her, or that she has to stay in a relationship where someone is cheating on her or isn’t valuing her. There were times in her second marriage when Jessica would tell herself to wait until the kids were out of the house to get divorced. But she knew she wasn’t happy and she wasn’t herself, so she had to ask herself, “is this really what I want the kids to see in the last couple of years before they leave for college?” Jessica and T.H., had to rediscover who they were once they left their marriages. They found who they were beforehand and redefined who they wanted to be.
A lot of times, women fall into a rigid role in their marriages where they set expectations based upon fulfilling that specific role. To T.H. and Jessica, Haart is so brave for what she did. Not only did she leave the community and give herself and her kids a different perspective on life, but she did it knowing that everybody that she had grown up with, particularly her family, was going to cut her off. It takes enormous strength to walk away from something alone. It’s not an easy journey when you embark on finding yourself. But the road to knowing yourself is beyond rewarding. T.H. is adamant that a guy isn’t going to make your life great. You make your life great. She encourages everyone to find a partner that compliments you and furthers your personal growth. Haart’s strength is a testament to the idea that you have to be true to yourself, no matter what, no matter how bad you think it’s going to be.